As technology permeates all aspects of work and life, the skills needed to be successful are evolving. However, simply having in-depth technical knowledge isn’t sufficient and just being equipped with soft, transferable life skills stops one from holistically applying them. More important is establishing a balance that will incorporate critical aspects from both ends of the spectrum under the broader umbrella of digital skills.
One desirable quality that employers are looking for in future candidates is the ability to take the initiative. In other words, this means having student agency. The World Economic Forum describes taking the initiative as a 21st Century Skill. I believe it is one with the ability to blend the hard and soft skills that students need to succeed.
Eric Sheninger defines student agency as:
Student agency is about empowering kids to own their learning (and school) through greater autonomy. It is driven by choice, voice, and advocacy.
Imagine the kind of professionals we would see if students were encouraged to own their learning, make decisions, take responsibility for their choices, or speak up when they want to learn more. Indeed, most of them will be agile, adaptable, curious, extremely resourceful, and entrepreneurial.
So the question is now, how do you develop agency in students? While there isn’t a single correct method, I can share some examples that have come across through my work with schools globally.
Give Teachers Agency
Teachers are the torchbearers of transformation in a classroom and the school. Give them the opportunity, time, and resources to break away from the shackles of a highly structured curriculum and encourage them to experiment. When teachers are empowered, the students will reap the benefits.
Involve Students in the Decision Making Process
When Using Technology, Focus on Competencies and Skills Not Devices
When introducing a new device into the classroom, let the students “play” with it for some time before showing them how to use it. Devices come and go, but skills are evergreen. So instead of students becoming experts with a specific device, focus on their development of digital skills such as digital citizenship, content creation, data analysis, finding and authenticating information, storing and organizing information, and time management.
Ask Open-Ended Questions
Where possible, introduce your students to activities or projects with open-ended questions. This idea ensures multiple endpoints, opportunities for discoveries, rapid learning, knowledge sharing, and experimentation. Another approach to this is giving students real-world problems and asking them to solve them with the tools and skills they have at their disposal.
Make Your Students Fall in Love With Learning
Encourage Playing and Tinkering
Whether it’s a digital device, watercolors in an art lesson, or lines of code – let your students play without supervision. Building time for unstructured play in every subject helps students understand the subject matter, materials, and resources. In some cases, it also helps them discover new things about themselves or the subject.
Be a Coach or Facilitator of Learning
As a teacher, if you change the nature of your classroom to be more student agency-driven, your role will also transform. You don’t need to be the ‘sage on the stage,’ but you will become more like a coach encouraging your students to complete their project or nudge them in the right direction with actionable insights.
Students cannot assess their transformed teaching experience with a traditional written exam or a quiz. Meaning that to measure student learning, you will need variety and distribute the assessments over the entire activity instead of giving it only at the end.
How do you try to develop student agency in your classroom? Have you tried any of the points suggested above? I’d love to learn and hear from you. You may reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.